Being There

by Dave Schuler on August 20, 2014

The editors of Bloomberg urge the president to go to Ferguson:

Attorney General Eric Holder will be in Ferguson tomorrow. But the president should go, too — if not tomorrow then in the days or weeks ahead.

So why isn’t he? Obama said yesterday that his reluctance to say or do more reflects his reluctance to “put my thumb on the scales one way or the other” during a federal investigation. Undoubtedly he also is mindful of the backlash that greeted his remarks about the Henry Louis Gates contretemps five years ago and the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012, and he must also know that many Democrats, with the midterm elections looming, are wary of his making a comment or gesture that could alienate some white voters.

To which there is only one proper response: So what? This is a moment for the president to act. He can lead by helping to bring together a town riven by a tension sadly common in America — between a black community that feels disrespected and a police force that feels misunderstood. He can convene, listen and show that there is a messy, but peaceful way forward. If he succeeds in lowering temperatures, many Americans (including some Republicans) will be reminded why they voted for him 2008. If he doesn’t, many Americans may give him credit for trying.

while Todd Purdum of Politico explains why he shouldn’t:

Obama’s dilemma on Ferguson boiled down to whether he should issue a statement that would leave the shooting’s passionate critics unsatisfied, or say nothing at all and appear disengaged.

“The circumstances determine the reaction, and it isn’t appropriate for the president to speak up emotionally in the midst of an ongoing investigation by the Justice Department,” White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said in a telephone interview. “He wants the attorney general and his team to be able to conduct an independent investigation without any thumb on the scale one way or another. I think the president’s goal is to add his voice in a way that is calming, so the violence ends, and to send a message to the government officials on the ground about what his expectations are in terms of freedom to assemble, freedom of speech and freedom of the press — and also to signal to the people who have been looting and shooting that that’s not an acceptable way to honor the death of a young man.”

If the people of Ferguson are to be treated as ends rather than means, I think a better choice would be to use the millions that the president would spend in visiting Ferguson to fund the salaries of some additional, presumably black, police officers. Ferguson is a small community of very modest means and I sincerely doubt that it has the wherewithal to hire additional police officers on its own and, given its employment contracts, they’re not in a position to terminate any of their present officers in favor of replacements. The only practical ways they might bring on additional officers would be to federate with other small North County towns (which wouldn’t guarantee the outcome) or to find some additional funding.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

TastyBits August 20, 2014 at 8:02 am

Does anybody know what the percentage of black law enforcement officers who use deadly force – total, against black, against white, and the numbers for whites? Also, it would be good to see the numbers by city with the racial mix of the population and the police department, and there should be a total number of shootings with racial breakdown for these cities. It could also include income and job numbers.

If not, the millions could be spent on this research. This might reveal a pattern or lack of one.

Dave Schuler August 20, 2014 at 8:05 am

I think that would only matter if what people were complaining about were facts rather than unassailable beliefs.

PD Shaw August 20, 2014 at 8:10 am

When the President goes anywhere, he brings a quite large, “militarized” security force with him. To the extent such police stylings are a major complaint of the protesters, it would be like showing up at a Baptist prayer meeting with a six-pack of beer.

... August 20, 2014 at 8:45 am

PD, the six pack for the Baptists is for the Saturday night before church.

I think the President’s lack of response is because he isn’t running for anything anymore and it would interrupt his golf game.

TastyBits August 20, 2014 at 8:54 am

@Dave Schuler

That is the larger problem, but they will claim their beliefs are facts.

CStanley August 20, 2014 at 9:09 am

If funding is really the main constraint then it makes sense to provide funds. It’s my impression though that there is such a deep divide that the local blacks who would be potential candidates for those newly created positions would not apply, and if people are brought in from elsewhere I doubt that would help the trust issue.

... August 20, 2014 at 9:38 am

One thing cops can do to help with trust issues is to live in the communities where they work. That doesn’t help much if you are a cop in LA and work on the other side of the city, but would help in places like Ferguson. Perhaps they do all. live in Ferguson, but that would be unusual in central Florida.

TastyBits August 20, 2014 at 10:19 am

@Icepick

The problem with residence requirements is qualified applicants. In the crappy areas, the qualified applicants would be able to get a job in the surrounding area, and they may not want a job in law enforcement.

When you raise the salary to attract more applicants, you get more people who are risk adverse working in a risky job. When you lower the standards to attract a certain demographic, you get a lower quality person.

steve August 20, 2014 at 5:46 pm

I like the idea of using the money from a potential visit and using it for something constructive.

Steve

PD Shaw August 20, 2014 at 8:59 pm

@Tastybits, This survey summarizes the studies as of 2010:

SUSPECT’S RACE/ETHNICITY

* Most studies find no relationship between the suspect’s minority status and the use of police violence.

* A significant number of studies find that minority status has a mixed or contradictory relationship, such as race being a factor in specific situations, such as suspect compliance versus resistance.

* It’s the neighborhood, stupid. One prominent study concludes that race/ethnicity loses all relevance when adjusted for whether or not the encounter is in a high-crime neighborhood.

OFFICER’S RACE/ETHNICITY

* Less studied, most find no consistent relationship btw/ officer’s race and use of force.

* One study finds Hispanic officers more likely to use force, thought not necessarily more likely than non-Hispanics to use force more severely.

* * *

Police use of violence is more common when the suspect is male, intoxicated, and/or being arrested.

TastyBits August 20, 2014 at 9:39 pm

@PD Shaw

It tends to confirm what I thought, but as they point out, the terms are ill defined. OTB had a post about a Washington Post Op-Ed, “I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me.” That is the problem.

When cops feel challenged, they hurt people.

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